The state government has upheld Kansans' right to keep and bear pocketknives that can be opened with one hand.
Gov. Mark Parkinson last week signed Senate Bill 497, which clarifies that assisted-opening knives, with blades of less than 4 inches, are not construed as deadly weapons under state law.
The knives are readily available at sporting-goods stores and popular with hunters, anglers and workers, said Jim Rankin, a partner in the law offices of Foulston and Siefkin. Rankin lobbied for the measure on behalf of client Kershaw Knives.
Rankin said he noticed the knives "were being used by workers on the renovation of the Statehouse, while we were getting it (the law) changed."
He said the companies that make the knives were convinced that they were already legal in Kansas.
But in some areas, the knives had been confiscated by security guards and law-enforcement personnel, acting under a law that prohibits possession of spring-loaded, fast-opening knives known as switchblades or stilettos.
"There was some confusion on the part of some people who thought this was an illegal knife," Rankin said.
The new law clearly defines the difference between the legal assisted-opening knives — which are designed as tools — and illegal switchblades, commonly used for robbery and street mayhem, Rankin said.
Assisted-opening knives have a stud on the blade which the user pushes with a thumb to open the knife. Once the blade is open about a fourth of the way, a mechanism within the knife opens it the rest of the way, Rankin said.
They're useful for tasks that require holding something with one hand while opening the knife with the other, such as cutting a fishing line while holding onto a pole or net, he said.
"You can see the intent is not to appeal to people interested in 9mm automatics and other military special forces equipment," he said.
"The bill is basically to clarify the law on sporting knives," said Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, chairwoman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee where the bill originated.
"They've already been selling them, even in our state," McGinn said.
After some tweaking by law enforcement, the bill sailed through the Legislature with a unanimous vote in the Senate and only one "no" vote in the House.
The lone opponent, Rep. Stan Frownfelter, D-Kansas City, said he understands that assisted opening knives can be useful in the country or on a worksite.
But Frownfelter, who grew up in Kansas City, said he was stabbed as a young man and doesn't approve of one-hand knives in urban areas.
"To me, it's putting another weapon on the street — legally," he said.
Although the knives are exempt from being considered deadly weapons, they won't have to be allowed in courthouses, city halls and other secure buildings, said Seth Bundy, a spokesman for Parkinson.
The governor's chief counsel determined that "the only thing this bill references is what can be prosecuted as possession of a criminal weapon," Bundy said.
In addition to switchblades, the new law keeps in place the current ban on bludgeons, sandclubs, metal knuckles, throwing stars, daggers, dirks, billy clubs, blackjacks, slungshots (a rope with a weighted end) and straight-edged razors.